Tuesday, May 9, 2017

There is Reason to Fire Comey--But that's Not why He was Fired: Trump is Lying (again) and it Matters

So Trump has fired James Comey, the FBI Director who has been heading up the investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign collaborated with Russian attempts to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign.

And Trump is lying again, says David Leonhart. He makes a compelling case.

In his letter firing Comey, [available at NYT] Trump disingenuously claims he was acting on the recommendations of the Attorney General and a memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General.   "I have accepted their recommendation," said Trump. But that's clearly not the sequence: the Attorney General's letter and the memo are dated today, May 9, 2017, not enough time for the President to digest the letter, the memo, and make a decision. What's more, the deputy AG who wrote the memo has been on the job for just two weeks. This is not someone whose word you would follow without serious reflection.

Indeed, as Bill Kristol wrote on Twitter: “[T]here was no real recommendation from DOJ. Trump wanted to do it, and they created a paper trail.” In fact, White House sources admitted right after the firing that Trump himself initiated the firing. "The White House charged Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with coming up with a reason to fire Comey, as The Times and others have reported," says Leonhardt.

As recently as last Tuesday, Trump criticized Comey for having given Clinton "a free pass" and he dismissed the Russian connections investigation as "phony." In other words, Trump has never been concerned about the missteps outlined by the letter and memo; what he's concerned about is the Russia investigation and the fact that Comey is willing to assert strong independence in following through with this investigation.

As Kristol Tweeted, “One can  be at once a critic of Comey and alarmed by what Trump has done and how he has done it.” That seems surely correct.

James Dean, the White House counsel fired by Nixon in the "Saturday Night Massacre" during Watergate, seemed too sanguine tonight when he suggested to Judy Woodruff on the News Hour that Comey had made enough missteps, most recently during his testimony to Congress last Wednesday, that he felt Comey's time might be up. Yes, Comey has made missteps that justify him being fired. . . but those missteps are not why he was fired.

Comey made missteps last July, when he imprudently editorialized about Clinton's email server after deciding charges were not warranted. He made a more serious misstep when he made a public announcement about "reopening" the investigation into Clinton's email server shortly before the election--a misstep which may or may not have tipped the election. The final misstep came during Comey's testimony to Congress last Wednesday.  He was testifying about Clinton emails discovered on the computer of Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.  Comey testified he felt compelled to reopen the investigation--and to make a public pronouncement about it--in part, because Abedin had forwarded hundreds of thousands of emails, many of which were classified to Weiner. In fact, the FBI had no evidence that these emails were "forwarded" by Abedin. Apparently they ended up on Weiner's computer when Abedin backed up her Blackberry, and the transfer was inadvertent.

All of these missteps seem sufficient ground to dismiss the FBI Director. And those are the reasons the White House has cynically used to justify the firing. It gives a cover story to the firing. But, as Leonhardt says: they lie. That's not why Comey was fired at all.

And the lie matters.

Comey is being fired because Trump wants a loyalist to head the FBI while it is investigating the Trump campaign. A few hours after the firing, White House spokespersons were out arguing on Fox News that the Russia Investigation should now be dropped.

Firing the FBI director because the President wants a loyalist to oversee an investigation into the possible collusion between the President's campaign and Russian operatives is a big deal.

It will be interesting, and important, who gets nominated to replace Comey. Congress must insist that it be someone of great stature, and with a strong commitment to independence: someone just like Comey--but hopefully with better political sense and judgment.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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